The Religion & Culture Web Forum

September 2004

"Conjuring Curses and Supplicating Spirits: Baseball's Culture of Superstitions"

by Joseph L. Price
(Whittier College)

This month, Professor Joseph L. Price of Whittier College takes an entertaining look at baseball curses and the underlying beliefs that give them power over teams, players, and fans. The failures of particular major league teams may be unrelated to the curses laid upon them, Price says, but the superstitious nature of baseball culture turns curses into causes of suffering:

[Curses] can serve to harass enemies or combatants, to enforce law or tradition, to demand doctrinal or moral conformity, and to protect sacred sites and relics. In dealing with enemies, one technique of curses is to paralyze opponents by causing dissent, or to destroy them by separating them from their source of energy and power. Curses are also used to teach a lesson about the need for moral action, as Moses did in demanding the freedom of his kinsmen and as Jesus did in cursing the tree that provided no shade. Although curses often declaim destruction, they frequently function as “instruments of negotiation,” as suggested by Moses' success. (But in baseball the duration of the Cubs and Red Sox failure makes one wonder what they must be negotiating or, at the very least, who their agents might be!) As another distinct set of curses, protective ones often seek sanction for sites associated with the deceased, to respect their place of death or to secure the memorial of their burial.

In baseball, curses tend to conform to the first and last of these categories—either dealing with opponents, as the curse of the Bambino is intended to execute, or protecting sacred sites, as the curses against the Cubs and Angels were thought to be directed.

Read Joseph Price's full essay.

Early in September, invited responses to Professor Price's essay will be offered by Jerry Davich of the Times (Northwest Indiana), D. Gregory Sapp of Mercer University, Krista Tippett of the radio program Speaking of Faith, and Mark G. Toulouse of Texas Christian University. Responses may be found in the archived discussion board for this Forum (pdf).

The commentary will run through the month of September, after which it will continue to be accessible through the Web Forum archive.

The Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum is an online forum for thought-provoking discussion on the relationship of scholarship in religion to culture and public life. Each month the Marty Center, the research arm of the University of Chicago Divinity School, invites a scholar of religion to comment on his or her own research in a way that "opens out" to themes, problems, and events in world cultures and contemporary life.

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